Tories in desperate last-gasp plea for volunteers to avoid humiliating Devon by-election loss to Lib Dems

The Conservative campaign in Tiverton and Honiton has made a last-gasp appeal to Tory activists to help “get our voters to the polls” as they fight to avoid a stunning by-election defeat to the Liberal Democrats.

An internal campaign email from local Tory chairman Gillian Evans, obtained by i, makes a desperate plea for help, telling supporters that there is still “plenty to do” to defend the party’s 24,000 majority.

Ms Evans also reveals that the campaign to elect Conservative candidate Helen Hurford is struggling to deliver campaign posters to several key sites in the Devon constituency before polls open.

It follows internal polling from the Liberal Democrats that suggests the two parties are now neck and neck before Thursday’s by-election.

In her email, Ms Evans also details Tory plans for polling day, which include a “dawn raid from the Tiverton Office at 5am with Luke Hall MP and Julian Ellacott, South West regional chairman”.

She writes: “We are fighting to keep Tiverton and Honiton blue…these are the vital final three days before polling day on the 23 June – with plenty to do.

“Everything now becomes about ensuring we get our voters to the polls on Thursday.”

The email also reveals the two Tory party campaign offices in the constituency have extended their opening hours ahead of the by-election.

Ms Evans writes: “These are the vital final three days before polling day on the 23 June – with plenty to do.

“Everything now becomes about ensuring we get our voters to the polls on Thursday.”

It adds: “There are a number of poster sites awaiting delivery of the all important posters…. these are for mainly around Honiton and Seaton…. even if we only get the prominent sites put up in these final days that would be a huge help.”

After speaking to 6,000 constituents in the Devon seat at the weekend, pollsters for the Lib Dems put their candidate Richard Foord on 45 per cent of the vote, level with Ms Hurford.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey will return to support his Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate Richard Foord this week (Photo: Ben Birchall/PA)

If accurate, it means the Lib Dems are close to overturning the 24,239 majority won at the December 2019 general election by former Tory MP Neil Parish – who was forced to resign after he was seen viewing pornography in the House of Commons.

If the Lib Dems do reverse the huge Tory majority, it would be the largest by-election turnaround since Labour won Liverpool Wavertree from the Conservatives in 1935.

In 2019, Mr Parish won 60 per cent of the vote, with Labour second on 19 per cent and the Lib Dems back in third on 15 per cent. The poll also shows Labour has fallen from 19 per cent in 2019 to 6 per cent.

With two by-election victories against the Tories in Chesham and Amersham last June and North Shropshire in December behind them, the Lib Dems are hoping that the momentum will continue as the campaign approaches the home straight.

Asked to comment on the email, Ms Evans said: “This is normal activity in the days running into an election and asking activists to help.”

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